Monsieur Salut writes: what strikers want to do is score goals. The best of them, like Brian Clough, Kevin Phillips and Jermain Defoe among our greats, also have a selfish streak. Above all, they want their names on the scoresheet.
Lewis Grabban usually has no one to pass to anyway. But his tally in a miserable Sunderland season must make him, overall, a happy man. He is not bought but borrowed and he is also fully aware other clubs are casting an eye in his direction.
See the caption in Jake’s image. It’s true. That’s what our supporters relentlessly chanted throughout Jozy Altidore’s dark, goal-free days with Sunderland. As we look to Defoe, Borini, Lens and the rest to deliver the goals he couldn’t, a Co Durham exile in Toronto, Bill Taylor, has had a chance to track Jozy’s progress since the move to Canada …
Martin Bates is our latest Out West reporter to keep an eye on all things Sunderland in North America. Martin, a Canadian with Sunderland family origins, has the advantage of following our next opponents, Toronto, in all games in which they are not playing us, if that makes sense. So he knows all about both clubs and all about the possible battle royal between ex-Toronto man Jermain Defoe and ex-Sunderland man Jozy Altidore. Let Martin set the scene …
Malcolm Dawson writes….it’s the silly season and all quiet on the transfer front. The Copa America and the Under 21 Euro’s will have something to do with the lack of finalised activity so far and many of the rumours will be no more than that, started by agents and clubs hoping to up the value of players they are looking to move on. Expect some positive news soon. And it’s not too long now until North Shields go to Berwick Rangers and an SAFC XI head for Ironworks Road, Tow Law to give Saturday afternoons some purpose again – if pre-season Northern League friendlies can be considered purposeful. But in the meantime here (courtesy of Ken Gambles) is a contribution from a Mr Dennis Whys who has been pondering the imponderable in the hiatus that summer brings.
THE WHYS MEN SAY.
The close season always brings an opportunity to reflect on the great imponderables concerning our national game, those which can probably be termed the ‘Why on Earths?’ Answering these conundrums surely will involve an intimate knowledge of philosophy, psychology, metaphysics and even the thought processes of Greg Dyke. I’m sure that you can add your own particular favourites (or more likely, pet hatreds). Here’s mine.
Why, when defenders are shepherding the ball out for a goal-kick, are they allowed to assault any forward trying to reach the ball? Some of the antics would not be out of place on WWE and yet no foul is given for what would possibly be a yellow card anywhere else on the pitch.
Why in added time do time-wasting, substitutions and injuries never get the extra time they merit? (Add to that goalkeepers taking ages to pick up the ball and then carry it to the other end of the six yard box before kicking their boots against the post and having a sip of water instead of taking a goal kick? MD)
Why do super-fit young athletes have such a poor sense of balance that the merest nudge can send them sprawling and contorted in pain? The body contact is usually no worse than in the checkout queue at the supermarket.
Why are players taking a corner so desperate to gain an extra 3cms outside the quadrant? Can it make any difference? Would it have meant that John Oster would have been able to clear the first defender?
Why do teams in possession some 20 or so yards from the opposition goal pass the ball back to their keeper who then hits it long back to the place where play was shortly before?
Why have the authorities not introduced “citing” (as in Rugby Union) whereby serious foul play or blatant cheating can be dealt with retrospectively? This might help to eradicate feigning injury and diving.
Why (I assume with confidence) are modern kits designed by primary school children? Surely no adult could create or find the Mags pondweed and slime away ensemble attractive, nor Man City’s two shades of purple with yellow twiddly bits!
Why when we are told season ticket money is largely irrelevant owing to mega TV deals do prices still go up? (I exempt SAFC from this charge as they seem to be aware of the need to keep prices affordable.)
Now a few Sunderland specific unanswerables.
Why does Lee Cattermole pull his shorts up to his armpits probably cutting off circulation?
Why can Jozy score with abandon in Holland, the USA and in international football yet couldn’t hit the proverbial with Sunderland?
Why does the stadium announcer irritate so much? (As well as often getting the substitutions the wrong way round.) (Have you been to a 20/20 at Chester-le-Street? Now there’s irritating – MD)
Why do thousands leave early despite the scoreline and even on Sundays when traffic is no issue?
Why despite having similar demographics and social mix do the Mags wreck their city or punch horses after a home defeat? This is a serious question and could also take account of their penchant for pitch invasions (which the media have largely ignored.)
On windy days at the SOL why is there such a lacklustre attempt to gather litter at half-time?
Why are we always last on Match of the Day? (I think I know the answer to this one).
Why do Sunderland always seem to struggle in the Premier? The only common factor in perpetual failure, other than the crowd, is the kitman John Cooke. Perhaps it’s time to get rid of him (Only joking John )
Why are close seasons and international breaks such a pain?
The whole Salut! Sunderland team owes our old mate Jeremy Robson a huge apology. He was one of the first out of the blocks to submit an end of season review (you can read the rest by following the link below Jake’s image) but somehow it got lost in the ether. Putting things right, here is his slightly amended contribution edited to reflect events at Stamford Bridge and Dick Advocaat’s subsequent decision not to stay – both of which occurred after Jeremy’s review was written. MD
End of season review time again. There’s no point in recanting the events of the season per se. We were all there and saw what happened, so I won’t. Most of it is best forgotten anyway.
Comparing this season to the previous one might simply read as follows. “Couldn’t manage a point for weeks on end” and “couldn’t do much other than draw for weeks on end.” There’s a line from Boy and Bear’s “Old Town Blues, which is “Shadow of the carving knife, is not the danger but the warning sign”, which sums up this season’s tedious and faltering start and the incredible number of draws. Optimists consoled themselves with the satisfaction of not losing. Realists recognised that a defeat followed by a win would be a more accurate sign of progress. The truth is that there wasn’t any progress. Failure was simply wearing different clothes.
The previous season had seen us lose regularly but not heavily. This was also to change. A capitulation of mammoth proportions away at Southampton knocked ten bells out of the goal difference, and we witnessed one of the finest strikes on goal this season from a SAFC boot. Vergini’s finish was sublime. Unfortunately, it was past Mannone and not Forster. If only Messrs Wickham, Fletcher, and Graham (you can only dream Jozy), could muster such a thing at the right end.
As memories of a League Cup Final appearance faded to distant memory, goals were becoming a rarity. It looked as if the goal drought might be over for Fletcher as he netted twice in November away at Crystal Palace. Apart from his hat trick for Scotland against the Isle of Lundy (sorry Gibraltar – which isn’t even an island), the goal well remained dry until the fat lady was giving her rendition of “Oh Sole Meo”.
Freshly back to the UK having become fed up watching Raptors games and hitting the town with Drake, hopes of ending the goal scoring embargo saw Mr Defoe arrive in a swap deal for the lumbering and hopeless Altidore. Remarkably, many Canadians think they got the sweet end of the deal. Laugh? I thought my pants would never dry. Defoe’s return has not been high but his contribution has been significant, even when playing out of position.
By the time Defoe had arrived, many of our fans were sensing déjà vu, with Gus Poyet sounding increasingly like Steve Bruce in his later period as manager. Eager to criticise everyone other than himself and unable to see the glaring limitation in his tactics, style and team selections. Remarkably and against all odds, we saw the return of Danny Graham from a loan spell at Wolves which was cut short. They weren’t terribly impressed by Danny at Molineux, yet here he was. Not only back in the fold but even more remarkably back in the team, where he more or less stayed. Disastrous home performances and results of which the lowest ebb was the first half collapse against Aston Villa, ultimately saw Poyet leave with only 8 games left.
Enter the Little General. Contracted to the end of the season. We can only assume that Lee Congerton was responsible for this coup (so thanks a bunch Lee!). The most accomplished manager to ever arrive at Sunderland AFC in my life time had come to try and save us. Most fans had more or less given up the ghost. We were as good as relegated. Except of course we weren’t. All of a sudden there was some cohesion, organisation and a much more attacking formation which might actually pose a threat to the opposition. Dick Advocaat knows that to be successful, you have to score at least occasionally. Having said that we were also stronger defensively and that was down to the manager having the courage of his own convictions, dropping the likes of Vergini, Revelliere, and Alvarez on the final run in. A more positive outlook from the team saw our luck change as we got the two penalties at home to Southampton and the two fluke goals away at Goodison. What was it that Napoleon said about his Generals?
When our own Little General arrived he was probably not looking beyond the end of the season. Would he want to stay if we went down? Would we want him to stay? How would he feel if he saved us from relegation? Putting aside Dick’s comments about Mrs Advocaat not wanting him to carry on working, it would seem from his comments and behaviour that he did reconsider. When he burst into tears at the end of the match at the Emirates, it raised the possibility that this was the end of the road for him and his assistant, Bert Van Lingen. The two men have worked side by side for almost three decades. We asked the question, was Sunderland to be the final staging post on their joint careers which had taken them to league titles and World Cups? Avoiding relegation would have been a strange way for Dick Advocaat’s career to end. Was it, we wondered simply the end of the closing chapter to a longer story yet to be written? Some of his comments suggested that he realised what needs to be done at Sunderland, and how to make those changes. In a very short time he established a bond with the players, many of whom he knows are nowhere near good enough, and with the tens of thousands of Sunderland supporters with whom he has found a special place in their hearts. Personally I never warmed to Gus Poyet, but took to Dick Advocaat very quickly. But he’s made his decision and again we find ourselves looking for someone new.
The most significant difference between this season and either of the two previous seasons is that Ellis Short seems to better understand not only what is needed to put this club where it should be, but what mechanisms need to be put in place for that to happen. I’m delighted for Ellis Short, as I’ve been very critical of some of his dealings in the past, and particularly his transfer policy etc. When he took ownership of the club, he must have thought that owning SAFC was a great idea, but not being a football man at all, he really wasn’t sure what that idea was about. There’s a sense that he now comprehends the issues and has made some strides towards finding solutions. The first part of this new jigsaw has to be finding a replacement for Dick Advocaat. Someone with a similar philosophy and feel for the game. Someone who will fall in love with the club and get the team onside. Someone who will be here for the longer term and produce the longed for stability we all crave. If he’s successful in doing that difficult task, then we will have good reason to look forward to the coming seasons with much more optimism than for many a good year.
Well, there are those who might argue with that description of Sunderland AFC. But that what SAFC is to us.
And we are delighted to be able to pass on the official news that the deal bringing Jermain Defoe to the Stadium of Light has been sealed. He is now a Sunderland player, signed on a three-and-a-half year deal.
The lads and lasses who support AK over in the Netherlands won’t be able to believe it. For them, Jozy Altidore scored goals for fun. Followers of the United States national team generally think he’s the real deal. But back in Blighty, in Hull and Sunderland, we all wonder about the lack of goals (a problem if you are a striker) and some, Pete Sixsmith among them, suggest Rugby League might have been a better option as the young Jozy contemplated his sporting career. For all that, Jozy Altidore deserves to be remembered as a player who gave his all and was, by all accounts, a great guy. Good luck, Jozy, but let Sixer take up the story …
Malcolm Dawson writes…..I called into the Wetherspoons in Houghton to give mine and M Salut’s regards to Hull City fans Raich and Gary, excellent contributors to the Who Are You series but there was no sign – so I nipped into my brother’s for some Cheesy Puffs and a chicken drumstick prior to this one. I can’t say I was too optimistic. Anyone who has followed Sunderland for more than a season knows that they can surprise you in the most unlikely of situations and will invariably disappoint if you go full of expectation. Like so many games before, here was a fixture we were odds on to win against a side rapidly becoming odds on for the drop. Another banana skin loomed and with Andre Marriner in charge we were unlikely to get any marginal decisions. I don’t normally moan about referees, adopting M Salut’s stance that generally they do a tricky job to the best of their ability, but this particular official has a track record when in charge of our games and yesterday just added more grist to the mill. Having said that we were crap second half. Peter Sixsmith concurs.
HULL CITY BOXING DAY
How to spoil a good Christmas:
Take a Sunderland side who seem to think that a derby day win guarantees undying affection and a continued presence in the Premier League, add a twist of a former Sunderland manager who has forgotten how to win against anybody but the red and whites and throw in a soupcon of Andre Marriner, possibly Europe’s most inadequate referee, and you have the ideal recipe for an absolute disaster, a game that made cold sprouts and a box set of Jim Davidson DVD’s seem infinitely preferable.
The day had started well. I was a guest of Pete Horan and Emma Niven (the younger of his two stunning daughters) in the Montgomery Suite. The food was excellent, the company equally so. We shared a table with a lovely family from Peterlee (there’s a good story here which, hopefully, will appear later), chatted with Chris Makin who is currently “working” with Nicky Summerbee in Qatar, commentating on Premier League games and bumped into John Hawley who, tongue in cheek, predicted a 3-1 win for City. Oh how we laughed.
The smiles grew wider as Hull contrived to defend like the Over 50’s team in the annual pub challenge and Adam Johnson rolled the ball into the net in the first minute. We sat back in the plush West Stand seats and anticipated an opportunity to reduce the goal difference deficit.
For fifteen minutes we looked good; trickery from Alvarez, excellent link play from Fletcher, some crisp passing from Gomez and Larsson. When the Swede put a good opportunity wide, there was little to worry about as surely another chance would be along in a minute or two.
What we didn’t realise in our post prandial comfort zone was that The Tigers were gradually gaining a foothold in the game. Led by the excellent Stephen Quinn and the busy Sone Aluko (a player who had passed underneath my radar), their passing was crisper than ours, their movement was more incisive and when Gaston Ramirez levelled with a goal that seemed to hit a divot and embarrassed The Giant Pantilimon, it was no more than they deserved.
We had a flurry of activity before the half time whistle went which gave Andre Marriner the opportunity to show us why he should be barred from Wearside until the 23rd Century. I thought that Alex Bruce clearly handled a cross from Adam Johnson, as did most of the Sunderland crowd and players. Bruce had his hands up and was always liable to touch it, either intentionally or not, therefore it had to be a penalty.
I was less convinced by the other claim against Quinn where I thought that the ball hit the hand but we could have gone in 2-1 up when McGregor made a good save from Vergini’s effort. It would have been undeserved but I would have taken it.
The second half was an absolute disaster as Hull proceeded to roll us over for the fourth time in a row. Chester’s firm header came about because he was completely unmarked and Jelavic finished off the twitching corpse in the last minute as we pushed up field in a desperate attempt to salvage a point – one that we did not deserve.
What is it about this club? As Pete said after the game “You could put the Real Madrid team in Sunderland shirts and they would perform as Sunderland always do.” How right he is. There we were, with the warm glow of a Derby win behind us, a game where it was accepted that we played the better football. Another 40,000+ crowd, bedecked in new Christmas jumpers, scarfs and hats, full of brandy and bonhomie and we play like this.
There were some players who were seen through in this debacle. John O’Shea has had a good season thus far, but take Wes Brown out of the team and he is not as effective. Put him alongside Coates and he is even less so. The Uruguayan, who grew into the game at Newcastle, grew out of this one pretty quickly and his passing was woeful. Vergini was little better. Cattermole played far too deep, Larsson appeared to believe all the good things written about him this season and Alvarez and Gomez are lightweight, ineffective and out of their depth. Jack Rodwell must be looking like Billy Bunter in training if he can’t get into this team.
And then we come to the substitutions. Off came the two Z men and on came Giaccherini and Altidore. The former was making his return after three months out so that may be the reason for his wretchedly disappointing performance. A couple more like this and he may well be resuming his career in Serie A. As for Altidore, well, I really cannot envisage him ever scoring for Sunderland. Danny Graham offers more and so would Mikael Mandron. The American has had ample opportunities and has shown that he has nothing to offer at this level. His movement was poor, he rarely wins headers and his presence on the field can only inspire giggles amongst the opposition defenders. His sole contribution to SAFC will be to be mentioned in the same breath as Andy Kerr, Tom Ritchie, Brett Angell and Jon Stead as complete and utter flops.
So, a real disappointment, made all the more so when the other results are looked at. A win or even a draw would have pushed us up the league and created a breathing space as we go into a four game run where points will be hard to come by.
But this is Sunderland, a club where the catering is excellent, the set-up is outstanding and the product on the field is consistently disappointing.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..“Don’t be too unhappy going home girls – it’s a long way back,” I cheerfully remarked to two lasses in their claret and blue scarves heading for the North Stand Upper, before kick off yesterday. They probably weren’t, as a point each seemed fair after a decent game where both sides had chances. They may have been as disappointed with the penalty award as their manager, but a push is a push and was intended to stop Johnson getting the cross in. No Shearer on MOTD to say a forward is “entitled to go down when there is contact” but Messers Savage (who of course never tried to con the ref in his playing days) and Murphy felt it was soft. You’ll all have your own opinions. But whilst another draw is better than nowt, the inability to turn them into victories is cause for concern. Our biggest disappointment came as our American international once again failed to convert as simple a chance as you ever get in this league right on the stroke of half time. Well at least he’s consistent. Even we atheists were praying he’d have a good game yesterday despite being perplexed at the manager’s decision to start with him rather than Steven Fletcher. Gus was smiling after the game but I suspect his disappointment is greater than that of his West Ham counterpart, those two girls and the rest of the travelling support. Here’s Peter Sixsmith’s take on events.
SUNDERLAND 1 – WEST HAM UNITED 1
With the clock ticking down to the end of an enjoyable and entertaining first half, fought out between two decent sides, Seb Larsson took off on a coruscating run down the right hand side of the pitch, stretching a Hammers’ defence that never looked anywhere near as comfortable as their highly accomplished midfield. Our Swedish Svengali got to the by-line, looked up and saw Jozy Altidore, free of his marker, thundering in, with only goalkeeper Adrian to beat. It needed an inch perfect ball played into the feet of the American and surely we were 2-1 up.
In went the ball, a fantastic pass from a player who has had his critics on Wearside but who has had a very good season so far. Up went the crowd in anticipation of a half time lead and a chance to build on an encouraging performance. In went Jozy, all bustle and enthusiasm, desperate to score his first Premier League goal in 12 months. Here it was; the cheer was ready in the throats of the 40,000 Sunderland fans shivering in the Stadium.
And he missed it!
He arrived a split second too early and the ball, instead of being pushed over the line, was ever so slightly behind him. Not due to bad luck or a mishit pass or the ball hitting an emerging mole, it was entirely due to Jozy’s adrenaline rush taking over from what should be his striker’s instincts and his natural ability to be in the right place at the right time. Groans from the crowd, disbelief from the players and, apparently, tears from the man himself. That could well be his final act in a red and white shirt.
In my younger days, I would have probably castigated him mercilessly. The likes of Tom Ritchie, David Swindlehurst, and Mel Holden all caught some flak from the fat bearded type stood in the Clock Stand Paddock. But, as I have grown into my dotage, I realise that players do not miss chances on purpose and it is hardly their fault if they are not good enough.
My mood has been tempered as well by reading Ronald Reng’s powerful and moving account of the life and tragic death of the German goalkeeper Robert Enke, a man who succumbed to deep depression on two separate occasions, the second of which led to his untimely death.
He was a top notch keeper in the Bundesliga but had failed at Barcelona and at Fenerbache. Jozy has had two bites at the Premier League cherry and it is clear that he is not good enough to play at this level. His enthusiasm and desire cannot be challenged and I thought that he had a decent first half, but it was clear when he re-emerged for the second that he knew that the game was up.
Credit to Poyet for not replacing him at half time as that would have had a devastating effect on his self-esteem and when he was withdrawn on the hour for Fletcher, he got a sympathetic round of applause from fans who can see that, whatever his weaknesses are, lack of effort and desire are not amongst them.
Fletcher’s arrival and that a few minutes later of Ricky Alvarez, gave us our best spell of the game and introduced some pace and craft to a team that works very hard but which lacks the natural strength and inventiveness that the better teams have. Alvarez looked comfortable on the ball and clearly has the eye for a pass. He worked a couple of impressive openings down the right hand side with Santiago Vergini and had the previously comfortable Carl Jenkinson, struggling.
Connor Wickham blazed a couple of chances over the top and Adrian made an excellent save from another and we ended up with our ninth draw of the campaign. At this stage last season, a point from the fourth placed team would have been welcomed with cheers and huzzahs. This year, there was a sense of disappointment as we trooped back to the warmth of our cars and coaches and enjoyed listening to Arsenal rattle the goals in against the Mags.
How close are we to being a decent side stuck in the kind of mid table obscurity that we crave and how close are we to being seriously involved in the relegation battle? We are well organised and, by and large, have cut out the mistakes that have cost us dearly in the past. The back four is solid and with Jones almost fit and Van Aanholt resuming light training, we will have choices to make. Reveillere had another good game yesterday but he is 35 – positively ancient for a Premier League defender.
In midfield we are solid but we backed off too much yesterday. When Stuart Downing (and didn’t he play well) moved forward to hit the equaliser, Cattermole backed off and gave him the room he needed to rifle home his shot. What we had done against the patricians of Chelsea was not done against their more proletarian East London neighbours. Gomez moves the ball on well but is lightweight and I did not like the nasty foul on Downing for which he was deservedly booked. He took his penalty well despite Adrian’s attempts to distract him and all the hoo-ha about the award. It looked a soft one from the East Stand but who am I to argue. And we could have had one for handball in the second half.
I was quite impressed with West Ham. They played some thoughtful and intelligent football and it was a toss up between Downing and Song for their best player. The likes of Song will never end up in a city like Sunderland and the cosmopolitan mix of London makes it so much easier for West Ham, a club at our level, to attract European/African players.
We now have the week to prepare for our visit to the Sports Direct Arena. We should go with some confidence in that we are difficult to beat and we compete for 90 minutes. Gus’s team selection is very important for this one; do we bring in Bridcutt to tighten it up, leave Johnson to slip past their defenders or take a gamble on Alvarez to show his pace and his quality?
I have been worrying for a while about our strike force.
Until this week, if we leave aside development squad players, Gus Poyet had four options up front: Steven Fletcher, Connor Wickham. Jozy Altidore and Danny Graham. Don’t laugh at the last name; he’s been on the bench.